Twenty three years ago, Chandrakant Pandit left the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru with a broken heart. Chasing a Ranji Trophy title, Madhya Pradesh crumbled against Karnataka by 96 runs in the final as Vijay Bharadwaj registered a six-wicket haul in the second innings.
Almost two and a half decades later, when Pandit returned to Bengaluru earlier this month - this time as the head coach of Madhya Pradesh - he had unfinished business. To exorcise the ghosts from the past, Pandit knew that his team will have to play a fearless brand of cricket to chase its dream of winning the title. And over the last few weeks, his focus was solely on bringing the best out of the team.
On Sunday afternoon, Pandit finally got redemption when Madhya Pradesh defeated domestic giant Mumbai , scripting a historic Ranji Trophy win at the same venue where his dreams were crushed in its last summit clash!
As Pandit and the players celebrated their success, it was an emotional moment for the members of Madhya Pradesh’s batch of 1999. Be it Rajesh Chauhan or Devendra Bundela or Narendra Hirwani, for all the players who were part of the ‘heartbreaking’ final 23 summers ago, Sunday afternoon finally healed their wounds. “We had missed out on an opportunity against Karnataka the last time, but our youngsters fought bravely and ensured that the opposition cannot fight back. It is a huge moment for us that we have defeated Mumbai and clinched the title,” Chauhan, a former India off-spinner, told Sportstar .
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“When I look back at that final of 1999, I feel that Karnataka played a trump card by letting Bharadwaj bowl with the new ball. It rained a little and our batters failed to stand up to the occasion. We lost despite taking a first-innings lead. Such things happen in cricket, but our youngsters made us proud by beating a high-flying team like Mumbai…”
While he credits Aditya Shrivastava and his men for putting up a strong fight against the 41-time champion side Mumbai, Chauhan believes that the coaching method of his old friend Pandit made the difference.
“Chandu has a traditional way of coaching a team and whenever a team accepts that style, it enjoys success. In our playing days, we played cricket in a traditional way and when players like Sandeep bhai (Sandeep Patil) and Chandu came in, we adopted a similar style and we had our moment of success,” Chauhan said, “To understand Chandu’s system of coaching, you need to understand him first. Mumbai did not realise that and let him go and now look at the result…”
“Mumbai team rejected Chandu’s traditional coaching style and let him go. Fortunately, our boys accepted his way of functioning and they got the desired result. By traditional approach, I mean discipline. Chandu follows that sincerely - he believes in same treatment for everyone, proper training schedule, ensuring that the timings are followed and that there is no distraction for players. So, these things may sound very old school, but this approach has eventually helped the team win a title,” the former India spinner said.
'Need a winning habit'
While he cherishes this ‘huge moment’ for Madhya Pradesh cricket, Chauhan believes that it is important to keep the momentum going. “Winning once is easy, but it is important to build on it and focus on the future. We need to develop a winning habit and that’s what you call development. The MPCA needs to ensure that we don’t lose the plot and keep it going,” Chauhan added.
Bundela, one of the stalwarts of Madhya Pradesh cricket, also believes that it is important for the team to build on this success. “The best thing about this team is the fact that there are young players and they have been playing together for a while. I am sure this team will dominate over the next few years,” Bundela said.
“In the entire tournament, Madhya Pradesh dominated other teams. Of the six games, we had five outright wins and that speaks volumes about the team’s mindset and approach.”
When the team played the 1999 final, Bundela was a young cricketer and over the years, he has seen Pandit grow as a coach. “The last time we played the final under the captaincy of Chandu bhai , it was a thrilling encounter spanning over the five days but we lost. So, today, when the team won the title, it was indeed an emotional moment for Chandu bhai and it’s indeed a proud moment,” Bundela said.
Being a coach himself, Bundela understands the importance of bringing the best out of the players and over the last few weeks, Pandit has been able to inspire the Madhya Pradesh team. “He has his own style of handling a team. It is important to talk to the players, maintain discipline in the team and that approach has paid off. He has six titles under his belt and that explains how his style of coaching has yielded results. He is undoubtedly the best coach in the domestic circuit and he has proved it time and again,” Bundela said about his former captain.
When the Ranji Trophy started, the Madhya Pradesh team wasn’t formed and the team would play as Holkar - a princely State from the British era. While the greats of the game - including C. K. Nayudu and Syed Mushtaq Ali - featured for the Holkar team, it made the final ten times, and won the title on four occasions. However, ever since featuring in the tournament as Madhya Pradesh, the State team could not break the Ranji Trophy title jinx.
But on Sunday, history was made in Bengaluru.
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